Court Opinions- Jan 22, 2018

 People v. Fields and People v. Reed

On the night of Jan. 29, 2017, the Florence Police Department received a 911 call from a woman who believed she was observing a drug transaction occurring in a parking lot. 

Officers responding to the 911 call parked their patrol cars without engaging their emergency lights and both approached the truck on foot. Fields and Reed, as well as a third passenger, responded to questions from the officers and conceded they had outstanding out-of-state warrants.

During the interaction, one officer saw the exposed handle of a handgun in the area under the center console and asked Reed to step out of the truck and searched him. During the search, the officer found a baggie of methamphetamine.

The other officer ordered Fields from the truck and found through questioning that he had knives and a loaded gun in his pocketed. Through a search, the officer also discovered Fields had a plastic container of methamphetamine, and handcuffed him.

The district court concluded that the police contact with Reed and Fields, from its very inception, was an investigatory stop that was not supported by the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion, and therefore all evidence subsequently discovered was to be suppressed as the fruit of an unlawful stop. 

The court granted Fields’s motions to suppress all tangible evidence and statements, and after granting Reed’s motion to reconsider, granted Reed’s similar motions to suppress.

The state brought interlocutory appeals, as authorized by section 16-12-102(2), of the Colorado Revised Statutes and Colorado Appellate Rule 4.1, from orders of the district court suppressing contraband and statements in the related prosecutions of Fields and Reed. The district court found that the initial contact with both defendants in a parked car constituted an investigatory stop for which the police lacked reasonable articulable suspicion, and it suppressed all evidence acquired after the point of initial contact as the fruit of an unlawful stop.  The Supreme Court held that because the district court failed to appreciate that the officers’ initial contact with the defendants fell short of a stop. By the point at which the contact progressed to a seizure within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment, the officers had acquired the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion, and subsequently probable cause, to justify their investigative conduct, or inevitably would have lawfully arrested the defendants and discovered the contraband, both suppression orders were reversed, and the respective cases were remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court’s judgment.

Mendoza v. Trump 

Stella Mendoza filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. Listing herself and other plaintiffs, Mendoza filed a pro se complaint against Donald Trump and members of his family, as well as an assortment of state and federal agencies and employees. The district court found Mendoza’s claims to be nonsensical and dismissed them.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Mendoza’s appeal was frivolous, “the result is obvious, or the appellant’s arguments of error are wholly without merit. Both the complaint and Mendoza’s appellate brief, even liberally construed, were simply nonsensical and failed to allege valid claims for relief against any of the named defendants.” The court denied Mendoza’s motion and dismissed the appeal. 

Hutson v. United States of America Judicial System

On August 28, 2017, Rocky-Lee: Hutson filed his complaint alleging bias and misconduct on the part of the magistrate judge who presided over his civil rights case. The district court dismissed his complaint without prejudice because Hutson failed to comply with the magistrate judge’s order to cure deficiencies in his filings. Hutson appealed. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S. Code section 1291, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The court also denied Hutson’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis. 

Lincoln v. Maketa

This appeal grew out of the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to the former sheriff, Terry Maketa, and undersheriff, Paula Presley, of El Paso County. The claims were brought by three categories of subordinates: Lieutenant Cheryl Peck; Sergeant Robert Stone and Commanders Mitchell Lincoln, Rodney Gehrett and Robert King. In this suit, Peck, Stone and the three commanders alleged retaliation for protected speech.

The district court held that the subordinates’ allegations were sufficient to defeat qualified immunity at the motion-to-dismiss stage. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed because the law was not clearly established that Peck’s speech fell outside of her duties as a public employee, the investigations of Stone and his children constituted adverse employment actions and the investigation of the commanders, their placement on paid administrative leave and their alleged humiliation constituted adverse employment actions. Therefore, Maketa and Presley were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissal of the complaint.

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